Auto accidents are a fact of life every day in Georgia.
· In 2000, Georgia ranked 4th in traffic fatalities, following the top three states: California, Florida and Texas.
· In 2005 over 2.7 million people in Georgia sustained injuries as a result of highway vehicle crashes according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
If you’ve recently been injured in an auto accident, you’re probably still in shock and feeling a little raw, exposed and full of uncertainty.
Whether you were the driver or passenger in a car accident, or even if you were a pedestrian involved in a car accident, you could be entitled to compensation for pain, suffering and injury caused by an accident that was not your fault. In order for injuries to be compensated, the at-fault driver’s negligence must be the cause of the injuries sustained (except for preexisting conditions aggravated by the accident). If you are looking for information concerning your rights and responsibilities after an auto accident with injuries, you have come to the right place.
See a Doctor As Soon As Possible – Even if you are not sure if you were injured in the accident, see a doctor. Sometimes serious and costly injuries are not always immediately evident. See your doctor as soon as possible and tell any passengers in the vehicle with you at the time of the accident to do the same.
Report Accident to Your Insurer – Report your accident to your insurer as soon as possible and send something to the insurer in writing providing them with notice of the accident and include information concerning the time, place and circumstances of the accident including the name of any passengers in the vehicle at the time of the accident and any witness information you obtained. Once the insurance company has been notified of the accident they set up a claim in reference to that incident and a claims adjuster (someone who works for the insurance company and deals exclusively with claims) will call, write or email you regarding your claim. He or she will then look at your policy to determine the types of coverage you have, deductibles, and any coverage limits that may affect your claim. Your insurer may request that you sign a medical authorization to obtain copies of your medical records and bills. This is customary especially if your insurance policy contains medical payments insurance coverage.
Report Accident to At-Fault Driver’s Insurer – As you did with your own insurer, you should contact the at-fault driver’s insurer as soon as possible notifying them of the accident and any injuries you or your passenger’s sustained as a result of their insured’s negligence. Once the insurance company gets the claim started you become the claimant. A claimant is the person making a claim against another party's insurance; also known by the insurance company as the third party. The at-fault insurer may request that you sign a medical release so that they can obtain copies of your medical records. This is customary, but you should obtain copies of your own medical records and review them so that you know everything that they contain. Some insurers will miss vital information that you never know about if you do not get a copy of the medical records for yourself.
Medical Payments Coverage – Medical Payments insurance coverage provides payments for medical treatments for bodily injury due to a covered accident and up to the coverage limit. It is generally for the people in your vehicle and has no deductible. This should be used promptly and is encouraged by insurance companies to do so. One reason for this coverage is to help remedy the injured person immediately so they will not feel anguished by what happened and want to sue the at-fault driver.
This coverage also carries over to other individuals in your household, which means if they are involved in an accident, even if your car is not involved, they are covered under your insurance policy as household members and can receive as much coverage as you have available on the policy. Your insurer may request that you sign a medical records release form so that they can obtain copies of your medical records and bills. The insurer generally needs the medical records as well as the bills in order to issue payment to the providers for the medical services rendered in reference to the injuries received in the accident.
Claims Against You – If you receive any claims against you in reference to the accident, refer them to your insurance company. Make no statements or promises of payment to any claimant. If you receive any papers or notices of filing, notify your insurer and send them a copy immediately. There are time limits on some documents and filings and you need to get this information to the insurance company in time for them to remit a response. Otherwise, you could be liable for the damages. The insurance contract does not allow for punitive damages to be paid out, those damages must be sorted out outside the insurance contract if gross negligence has occurred.
Keep a Log – Try to document any trips you make to physicians, pharmacist, diagnostic testing and physical therapy and note the date of the visits in your log. Keep track of and document in your log any time missed from work due to the injuries received in the accident, such as time for doctor’s appointments, diagnostic testing, physician requested leaves of absence, physical therapy, etc.
Bodily injury claims can include economic damages, which includes, but is not limited to, lost wages, medical bills, rental car charges and so forth. Pain, suffering, humiliation and distress all fall within the term "general damages." If you settle your bodily injury claim, it must include all economic and general damages available to you, or you'll likely lose your right to recover for those losses.
Pre-Existing Conditions – Even if you have a preexisting condition that has been aggravated by the accident you can receive compensation for the aggravation. If you had a preexisting condition, their negligence did not cause your initial injury. However, if you can prove that the negligence made the injury worse, you can collect for the degree to which the condition has been aggravated. You will need your physician to document any changes in your condition from prior visits, distinguishing the differences created as a result of the accident in the medical records. Stress to all physicians and medical personnel the differences you feel or are experiencing since the accident and have as much of this information documented in the medical records as possible. The More documentation the Better your claim will be when it comes to settlement.
Settling Bodily Injury Claims – Once liability has been determined, the at-fault insurer will try to determine the full scope of the injuries, medical records are attained, bills for services are gathered and salary information is collected. Once the representative has taken all the steps necessary and taking in any future expenses that may arise out of the loss the claiming party has suffered he/she will make an offer to settle the bodily injury claim. This process can take days to months to complete, depending on the severity of the injuries. Their goal is to get the claim settled quickly to fulfill their obligation to their insured and contain their losses.
Losses due to pain and suffering are subjective and depending on the severity of the injury can be difficult to determine. Loss of limb or function and permanent damage that cannot be treated or repaired can cause much emotional distress and can be difficult to determine. You should not settle your claim too quickly. The adjuster may continually call you for updates about your medical status, but do not feel pressured into settling for less than you should. Get as much treatment as possible prior to settlement and bear in mind when you are considering a settlement demand amount that you may have future medical expenses due to this injury and you should take that information into account when you determine a fair settlement amount. If your claim is difficult or if you are unsure if you should settle, consult with an attorney prior to settling with the at-fault insurer or with your own insurer to make sure you are getting a fair deal. Remember, if your injuries are complicated chances are your claim is complicated as well. Consult with an attorney prior to settlement.
Contact: Kathleen S. Grantham, Esq.
The information obtained from this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Always consult with an attorney for advice pertaining to your individualized case.
Grantham Law Office
403½ S. Pleasant Hill Rd.
Warner Robins, Georgia 31088